Saturday, February 16, 2013

It's Fine by Me

It's Fine by Me By Per Petterson
Novels about teenager angst can sometimes sound, well...teenage. Not so in the case of It's Fine by Me by Norwegian writer Per Petterson, who previously wrote the haunting, spare Out Stealing Horses. In this newly translated novel (courtesy of Don Bartlett), he follows the struggles of Audun Sletten, a 13-year-old boy who supports his mother by delivering newspapers. Having recently moved to town, this family of two remains slightly lost. Audun makes one friend (a classmate), as does his mother (a lover). But the majority of their time is spent reflecting on the violence that Audun's father created in their old home, at one point shooting a pistol at the ceiling while 2-year-old Audun crawled around on the floor screaming. Like so many who grow up with chaos, Audun tries to make up all kinds of elaborate, even slightly comic rules to prevent the same thing from happening again. "You must never drink alone," he says, "never drink on Sundays, never drink before seven o'clock and if you do, it has to be on a Saturday. If you're hungover, you go for a walk in the forest, and you must never drink the hair of the dog. Do that, and you are an alcoholic ... you are finished. Then you spend the rest of your days walking through the valley of the shadow of death. ... They give you a wide berth in the street, scurry behind the canned food when you're in the shop to buy beer. ... And then you die." But his efforts to move on become all the more difficult when his father shows up—awakening not only memories but also new, acutely understandable fears. The tangle of this boy's mind—and the direct, graceful way it's portrayed—creates a tale that's far more adult than adolescent, one that asks the age-old question about how to deal with the past: Stay and pretend it's not happening, or run and pretend you don't care? Or...find some other way (please).— Leigh Newman